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Historical Photographers

One of the joys of following this interest in antique cameras and historical processes is learning about, and being inspired by historical photographers. 

The ability to search on the internet for a photographer and then follow the suggestions given for contemporaneous/linked/similar photographers is very powerful. But the first historical photographer whose work inspired me I found at the V&A in London in their photography gallery. The Photographer was Joseph Sudek 1896 – 1976. He was a Czech photographer, best known for his photographs of Prague. He used a large plate camera and made contact prints just as I had started doing. It was only much later I discovered he also used the exact same model of panoramic camera I use for his panoramas of Prague.

Joseph Sudek

The photograph of Joseph Sudek’s in the V&A is simple of an egg but softly and carefully lit and is a study in light, shade, form and texture - all of which are only really appreciated if you take time with the picture. Taking the role of apprentice, I imitated his kind of images learning how tricky it is to light a subject in the way you envisage!

Sudek Egg.jpg
Inspired by Joseph Sudek - dry glass plate image
Inspired by Joseph Sudek
Inspired by Joseph Sudek - print from x-ray film negative

I discovered many of Sudek’s contemporaries in 1930s Czechoslovakia made similar images as did the famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams. 


The American Edward Steichen (1879 – 1973) said:

“One of my experiments has become a sort of legend. It consisted of photographing white cup and saucer placed on a graduated scale of tones from pure white through light and dark grays to black velvet. This experiment I did at intervals over a whole summer, taking well over a thousand negatives. The cup and saucer experiment was to a photographer what a series of finger exercises is to a pianist. It had nothing directly to do with the conception or the art of photography.”


Reading this I feel free to experiment with the same subject over and over again - that subject is pears.

Pear wet plate collodion- ambrotype
Harman direct positive image of Pear - half plate
Pear - Vandyke Brown print from X-ray film negative - half plate


The softer, less perfect and hand-made nature of my images falls into what can be called Pictorialism. This was a school of photography arising from the desire to show photography was as much art as was painting and drawing by hand - even though many of the grand masters used technical devices to ensure correct perspective and form! An example here that is not at all “sharp” but full of atmosphere; 1890 - The Onion Field by George Davidson. Actually made in a pinhole camera.

Pinhole camera image 1890 - The Onion Field by George Davidson

The speed and ease with which we can now take photographs is amazing - but in the haste we can lose the pleasure and mindfulness that a slower form of the process can offer. Taking a stand against the relentless drive for ever more MEGA-images that are becoming more “real” than reality, my work celebrates the imperfections of a more basic process. With no Artificial Intelligence to make the “perfect image” my old cameras and processes can be used to create evocative images that invite the viewer into them. Pristinely clear images from our modern cameras and phones can be scanned, appraised - re-tweeted or ignored and then forgotten, but an image that draws you to explore, think, imagine - can create and deposit something of value in us, that will last.

Lith print of X-ray film negative
3 Apples - - Vandyke Brown print on watercolour paper from X-ray film negative - full plate
Digital scan and invert of X-ray film negative

I continue to be inspired by the work of historical photographers and the following short list is a starting point for anyone interested  in this work:


Josef Sudek

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Edward Weston

Edward Steichen

Alfred Stieglitz

Karl Blossfeldt

Frederick H Evans

Leonard Misonne

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